London

'Homeless overnight': She works full time, and sleeps in her car

An Ontario woman who lost her apartment to a flood in August has been living out of her vehicle while struggling to find housing she can afford, in part due to her credit score because she prioritized paying rent over credit card bills during the lean times. Now the stiff competition for rentals is leaving her out in the cold.

Poor credit score puts her at a disadvantage in tight Ontario rental market

While she has a decent job, she's been unable to find a place to live in part because her credit score isn't strong. That's because during lean times, she prioritized paying the rent over paying credit cards.
While this woman has a decent job, she's been unable to find a place to live after a flood left her without an apartment. She says that's in part due to her credit score because she prioritized paying rent over paying credit card bills during the lean times. (Andrew Lupton/CBC)

As she delivered her fall economic update earlier this week, federal Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland told the House of Commons "our country needs more homes — and we need more of them fast."

For one Ontario woman who's been living in her car since August, fast can't come fast enough. 

The 45-year-old woman has been sleeping in her vehicle for the last three months while working full time and trying to find a new place to live. CBC News has agreed not to name her for safety reasons. 

She told her story from a parking lot not far from London, Ont., where she had parked her vehicle for the night. 

"Sometimes you can't find a safe place to sleep," she said. "I tend to sleep at bank [parking lots] because banks have cameras and I feel secure and safe there."

She relies on a wool blanket to keep warm, cardboard window blinds carved from boxes for privacy and the goodwill of business owners to use the bathroom. She's learned that Tim Hortons is a good place to connect to Wi-Fi. 

Last night she didn't need to check the temperature to see the nights are getting colder as December draws near. 

"I had a cup of ice in my vehicle, I went to bed and the next morning. I got up and I realized it was still a cup of ice," she said. "That was alarming." 

And while she may, for now, be experiencing homelessness, she's not unemployed. She continues to work the same retail marketing job she's held for two years. Her employer has good benefits, and covers her gas and cellphone bill so she can travel to meet customers across southwestern Ontario — from Collingwood to Windsor to Niagara, and everywhere in between. 

Her job pays just under $20 an hour in a province with a $16.55 adult minimum wage. 

So how did she end up homeless? 

It all started with a historic rainstorm last August. At the time, she was living in a basement suite in Glencoe, Ont. — a town of more than 2,000 people located about 50 kilometres southwest of London. 

woman holds foam and blankets
The woman now sleeps in the back of her vehicle with a wool blanket and pillow. She says living in her car is becoming more difficult as the days grow shorter and the nights colder. (Andrew Lupton/CBC)

Her living space filled with a foot of water. When her landlord asked her to end her lease to make way for months of repair work, she agreed. Her possessions that were not too water damaged to keep are now in two storage lockers. 

Since then, she's been living in her Honda. When she's not meeting with a client, she's looking for places to live. She has filled out scores of rental applications but one barrier keeps getting in the way: a poor credit score. 

She's had lean times over the past few years, but said she's put a priority on paying rent over zeroing her monthly credit card balance. She has a letter of reference from her past landlord but said that hasn't been enough to secure place of her own when each apartment draws dozens of applicants. 

"I always made sure my rent was paid because I needed a roof over my head," she said.

Landlords have told her "many times" that her credit score is a problem. 

She said typical monthly rents for apartments she's viewed are in the $1,500 to $1,700 range, which she said would stretch her budget too far to afford other basics. 

An Ontario woman who's been living in her car since August said keeps a stash of snacks, and toilet paper, on the passenger seat. After three months of being unable to find her own place, she'll move in with her son and his partner on Dec. 1.
An Ontario woman who's been living in her car since August says she keeps a stash of snacks and toilet paper on the passenger seat. After three months of being unable to find her own place, she plans to move in with her son and his partner on Dec. 1. (Andrew Lupton/CBC )

But if things go according to plan, her time in the cold may soon be coming to an end. 

She plans to move in with her son and his partner on Dec. 1 when he moves into a London apartment. That arrangement has an agreed upon for the duration of a year. During that time she plans to keep working and continue looking for a place, she said. 

Federal housing money coming too late, advocates say

6 months ago
Duration 3:14
Some Canadian housing advocates say Ottawa needs to move faster to get newly pledged money out the door to spur much-needed construction. The government committed $16 billion for rental and social housing in Tuesday's fall fiscal update, but funding won't start until at least 2025.

Her message to others is simple: Have empathy to those who have no place to live, and don't make assumptions about why they are unhoused.

"When I see others in homeless situations, huddling in corners trying to stay warm, it just breaks my heart," she said. "Anyone can be homeless overnight and that's what happened to me."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Andrew Lupton is a B.C.-born journalist, father of two and a north London resident with a passion for politics, photography and baseball.